Sunday, 26 February 2012

Hags, Cats and Stones on the Beara Peninsula

Drumlave stones with Hungry Hill in the background
25th February 2012
We have got a whole day planned out on the Beara Peninsula today. The weather forecast is good, though when I look out of the window, all I see is mist and drizzle.
Sandwiches and supplies made, we are out of the door before nine and heading towards Glengarriff and The Ring of Beara. The weather improves, as soon as we get to the lower ground of Bantry. The mountains look great in the distance. Blue sky interspersed with misty low cloud giving an almost ethereal look, with the peaks of Sugar Loaf and Hungry Hill poking out magestically from the gloom.
From Glengarriff, we head to Adrigole, where we take the Healey Pass through the mountains and into Kerry.
The higher we get, the less we can see, as we reach the top and cross into Kerry. Heading downhill, visibility is down to less than Fifty yards. We can see the side of the road but nothing beyond it, just a grey nothingness dropping away. It feels like we are on the edge of the world and I am praying that a car doesn't come the other way.... With that drop, there is no way that I am reversing or pulling right over for anyone !!
Eventually, we reach the R571 at Lauragh and head West, back into Cork and through Ardgroom.
Our first stop of the day is only a few miles away now, as we turn off down a couple of lanes and park at Ballycrovane quay. We are here to see the Ballycrovane Ogham Stone and the signpost is directing us up through the drive of the cottage opposite. Through a small gate and up a peaty track and there it is. A massive pointed granite monolith, set on a small hillock, looking out over Ballycrovane Harbour, standing over 17ft tall. The inscription written in Ogham has been translated as MAQUI DECCEDDAS AVI TURANIAS  - "Son of Deich decscendant of Torainn". Nothing is known about either of these people.
A small plaque (very) near to the stone, tells us that this is a national monument !
Ballycrovane Ogham Stone

Ballycrovane Ogham Stone

Ballycrovane Ogham Stone
We make our way back to the car, past the now on guard, barking Collie in the yard.
A quick check of the harbour for birds. There's a Little Egret, a couple of Great Northern Divers, but not a lot else.
Next stop is Kilcatherine church, a mile or so up the road.
It's a small ruined church, with a graveyard which is still in use. The main reason for coming here is to see the Cat like head, which is over the Southern doorway.
There it is ! a long neck stretching out from the wall, with a fairly worn cat/snake/human like head ! it could be either of these.
Kilcatherine Church

Kilcatherine Church
The church is dedicated to St Caitighearn, who as we find out later has some dealings with the Hag of Beara.
Looking around the graveyard, there is an interesting old tapering cross and near the Eastern edge is a mound with an opening, leading down into an underground chamber. Looking in, two slabs can be seen - one either side, a bit like beds. These chambers would have been used by the old saints/monks as places of meditation and penance. This chamber would have been the decent into purgatory !
Kilcatherine Churchyard
Just a few hundred yards back down the road is the aforementioned Hag of Beara " An Chailleach Bhéarra". It's a natural stone overlooking Ballycrovane Harbour and Coulagh bay.

The Hag of Beara
 An Chailleach Bhéarra was considered to be a Goddess of Sovereignty, who gave the Kings the right to rule their lands.
She considered the arrival of Christian St Caitighearn as a threat to her powers. One day she sneaked up on him when he was asleep and stole his prayer book. Caitighearn was alerted and chased her and caught her. Retrieving his prayer book,he turned her into the grey/white rock that we see here today !
The rock is covered in all sorts of offerings, ranging from the usual coins, shells, statuettes and crystals to the more weirder clothes pegs, metal fish, hair bands and various unidentifiable objects !

The view through the Hag of Beara
Looking over at the small Islands in the bay, we spot at least five Seals lounging on the rocks.
Moving on, we drive to the small and colourful town of Eyeries. It's a lovely, friendly little place, full of character and one of the very few places where you will find a public loo in rural county Cork !
From here, it's cross country towards Castletownbere.We are looking for a left hand lane, which cuts back hairpin like. No sign of it on the first attempt, but we do spot it on the second drive by....after we've driven past it !
We end up taking the next turning which luckily goes to the same place - Kilmackowen.
After a few miles, the Standing stone comes into view a few fields up on the left. there's a place to pull in and we prepare to walk up the muddy track which leads up to the stone.
The fields are quite wet and muddy and we're both laughing as Joanie makes loud squelching noises as her shoes sink into the mud.
Kilmackowen Standing Stone

Kilmackowen Standing Stone

Kilmackowen Standing Stone
 The stone is another biggie at around 3 metres high 1.7 metres wide and 0.2 metres thick. It's aligned NNE-SSW and is in the saddle of land surrounded by the mountains of Maulin and Lackawee to the East and North East and Miskish Mountain over to the West. You can just make out the Atlantic in the distance.
There's a small stile, taking you into the next field and a muddy trek to the far side takes us to Kilmackowen Wedge tomb.
It's a neat little wedge tomb tucked away at the field edge by a small stream. A row of rocks, possibly the remains of a field boundary head from the tomb in both directions diagonally through the field. The large capstone is almost triangular. Another great site !
Kilmackowen Wedge Tomb

Kilmackowen Wedge Tomb
 We retrace our steps back to the car and head into and through Castletownbere and up past Derrynataggart West circle and Teernahillane Ring Fort. We are looking out for various boulder burials and standing stones, though without much success ! Finally we come across a small row of stones called Knockoura. Three stones in a row with a fourth stone at right angles to the middle stone. All four stones are small, in fact the central stone isn't even big enough to show above the tall white grass. It's an unimpressive site.
Knockoura Stone Row
 Carrying on out to the main road, we head West again. Rounding the bend at Gour Bridge, where our next stone is easily spotted in the field to our left.
A lay by and a nearby gate provide easy access to Gour Standing Stone. It's over 2 metres high and apparently used to have a small ogham inscription, though time and weather have worn it away. It's still an impressive stone, in a largely flat area.
Gour Standing Stone

Gour Standing Stone
 We turn around and head back Eastwards,before  taking a track down past Puxley Castle, a big modern Country House/Castle  down to the remains of dunboy Castle. It was the stronghold of Donald Cam O'Sullivan Bere. The castle was destroyed in 1602 after a seige by the English, led by Carew, Lord President of Munster.
It's hard to imagine the bloody past as we sit in the afternoon sunshine enjoying the peace and calm of a lovely Springlike day. A Kingfisher flits around  the rocks below in the small inlet, and  Black Guillemots and Cormorants dive for Fish further out nearer Bear Island.


 Heading back, we do a quick birding stop at Adrigole and spot 3 more Seals bobbing around the bay as a small flock of Wigeon feed close by.
Just past the bridge in Adrigole, we take a slight detour left and uphill to find a small Standing stone in a field  to our right. This one is called Cappaleigh North. It's only a small stone at just under a metre high, but it has a commanding views of Hungry Hill and Bantry Bay.
Cappaleigh North Standing Stone
 Just up the road and right at the crossroads we find a holy well, complete with metal cup for taking a sip and further down on our right, a terrific pair of Standing Stones. I jump over the fence into another squelchy muddy field. This stone pair are called Drumlave. The views are similar to the last stone, Hungry Hill and Bantry Bay. Cappaleigh North is only about a quarter of a Kilometre to the North the Crow flies.
Holy Well at Dromlave

Dromlave Stone Pair
 I check the map and it looks like there could be yet another stone back past the crossroads, so a quick turn and away we go. First joanie spots some stones to our left. we aren't sure what they are, but then again... neither are the National Monument survey, which lists them as anomolous rocks when I check their website later in the evening. They could be standing stones, they could be natural rocks !!!
well anyway, just further down on our right is our next stone. The stones are coming thick and fast now and I have to park as near to the edge as possible and keep the engine running, as I clamber over the wall for a better look. There's a fallen stone just yards away as well ! the standing one is 2 metres tall. This one is Kildromalive !
Kildromalive Standing Stone
The road continues down heading towards the mountains, the mixture of sun, blue sky and hanging mist clouds looks wonderful. Water is literally running off of the steep slopes of Hungry Hill as one waterfall cascades into another. Veering off to the left, we're keeping an eye out for a Bullaun Stone, which is around here somewhere.

Hungry Hill
 No luck with that one, so we turn right just past Kilcaskan Church and look for Kilcaskan row. It's not difficult to locate, but it's through a locked gate in a meadow like garden of a newly built house.
Luckily a farmer passes and I ask him if we can go and have a look. It turns out to be his Cousins land and the house is empty anyway so it's no problem.
The row itself, looks sad enclosed as it is by a wire fence. Some concrete pipes have been dumped in there right next to it !
All three stones are similar in size and shape. The most South Westerly one is covered in a bright orange lichen giving it a striking appearance.
Kilcaskan Stone Row

Kilcaskan Stone Row
 There's not much point in hanging around here for long, so we start the journey home. We've doubled back on ourselves, so have to go through Adrigole for the third time today.
Everybody seems to want to overtake today, even a farmer with a trailer is tailgating us before speeding past ! it's not that we're going slow either, it's just the West Cork way.
We both notice a sign for a wedge tomb and a standing stone.... even though time is  getting on, we do a u turn and head back up into the lanes. The sign tells us that both Ballynahown wedge tomb and Leitrim beg standing stone are this a way ! We come across the track up to Ballynahown first but it's way up on the hills and the mist is coming down fast, and the light is fading. So we give that one a miss today and continue on to leitrim beg. There it is. Another whopper at 2.6 metres tall. A short track leads up to it, shrouded in mist, we are in the foothills of the Sugar Loaf Mountain, but can't see it or anything else.
Leitrim Beg Standing Stone

Leitrim Beg Standing Stone

Killenough Standing Stone

Killenough Standing Stone
Better be heading back I suppose. We turn down the next right, a steep double s bend taking us out of the mist and past yet another stone. Killenough stone, is aligned East-West and at only 1.5 metres seems like the poor relation to it's big cousins up in the hills ! I've lost count of the stones seen today, as we travel back through Glengarriff and head home. Wow, what a mega(lithic) day !
The night sky greets us home

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ben Macdui. One from the archives !

Cairn Gorm in the distance
Here's a walk that I did back on the 16th August 2005 and would love to do again one day.
The starting point was the Coire Cas car park at the foot of Cairn Gorm near the base station (NH989063). This is a popular place, for day trippers wanting to take the Funicular Railway up to the summit station. But at 7 O'Clock in the morning I am the only one here.
Heading towards Lurchers Crag
The sun is shining as I head South West from the car park, following a well worn track towards The Lurchers Crag (Creag an Leth-Choin). The going is quite easy as I cross a few small streams.The big cliffs of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and The Great Slab, a favoured climbing spot, are over to my left. I start to ascend in more of a Southerly direction up Miadan Creag an Leth-Coin .The spectacular  Lairig Ghru comes into sight. This great valley divides the Eastern and Western Grampians.
The Great Slab

Marker Cairn on Lurchers Crag
Looking across the valley, I can see the the clouds brushing the tops of Braeriach, Carn na Criche, The Angels Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine) and Carn Toul (Carn an t-Sabhail). Despite the fact that it's August and the Sun is shining, there is still some snow laying on the side of Braeriach.
 Lairig Ghru

Coire an Lochain Uaine

Cairn Toul & Angels Peak
The going is still relatively easy, marker cairns line the track as I pass Lochan Buidhe. The great rounded dome of Cairn Gorm comes into view away over in the distance. I'll be heading that way soon !
The mist comes down as I reach the boulder fields on the approach to Beinn Mac duibh. The wind has picked up into a fierce South Westerly the higher I go.
Even with the marker cairns, it's not so easy now with visiblity restricted to 50 yards or so. I can hear Snow Buntings calling somewhere in the mist and there, out of the gloom I see the summit cairn and trig point.
At 1309 metres (4296 ft), Beinn Mac Duibh is the second highest mountain in the British Isles and I have it all to myself. It's now 9:30, two and a half hours to get up here... not bad !

The Boulder Fields on the approach to Ben Macdui

Summit Cairn on Ben Macdui
Sheltering from the wind, I sit and have a sandwich and a drink and watch the Snow Buntings that I had heard earlier, as they flit around the rocks. I count four in total.
Braeriach from Ben Macdui
My next target is Cairn Gorm, so I have to back track a little down out of the gloom to Lochan Bhuide, before heading over to Carn Lochan and following the ridge at the top of the steep cliffs past Stob Coire an t-Sneachda. there are great views over to Loch Avon and all of the big hills further West.To the East is a vast expanse of hills, forests and Lochs.
Fiacaill a Choire Chas from Stob Coire an t-sneachda

Approaching Cairn Gorm

Loch Etchachan
Up until now, I've been the only walker, but as I near Cairn Gorm, it starts to get busier. There's one last push up Cairn Gorm, another 4,000 footer at 1245 metres (4085ft).The summit cairn here is packed.It's now 11:50 and there's a weird mixture of serious walkers out hiking and tourists who have come up on the railway. I have to wait a little while to get a peopleless photo of the summit cairn, before making my way down through the ski fields and past the grazing Reindeer.
Beinn Mheadhoin

Stob Coire an t-sneachda

Loch Etchachan Derry Cairngorm

Summit Cairn on Cairn Gorm
I'm back at the car  by 13:15. All in all a very satisfying twelve and a half mile walk over a really wild sub arctic tundra landscape, with breathtaking views. I would have loved to have seen a Ptarmigan up there, but you can't have everything. I have bagged my first two Munros !
Looking back through my diary, a return visit has to be on the cards.